Family exposed to Ebola patient is moved while cleanup continues

Dallas News – by Scott Farwell

Despite assurances that the wealth and medical infrastructure of the United States would stop the Ebola virus in its tracks, public health officials still struggled Friday to complete basic cleanup at an apartment where the contagious man lived with four others.

A hazardous materials crew dressed head to toe in yellow rubberized suits, masks and green gloves lumbered into apartment 614 just after noon, as a mother, her child, and two young adults watched anxiously.  

Dallas spokeswoman Sana Syed told reporters the cleanup would take about 40 minutes, and the family would be moved to another home in Dallas County to wait out the 21-day incubation period of the virus.

Nearly six hours later, Syed returned to say that government officials went all day without locating a motel or apartment complex willing to take the family.

“The city and county have been working very hard to put this family in a safe location, and it’s been tough because no one wanted them,” she said. “Fortunately, someone was kind enough to offer a private residence … so they can have their privacy and so they can be away from anyone who has concerns.”

Syed would not provide the four-bedroom home’s location or the donor’s name. She said the home is in Dallas County and is gated.

Syed said the hazmat crew’s work will take longer than expected because Thomas Eric Duncan — who lied to Liberian airport screeners about his contact with an Ebola patient — had slept on all three mattresses in the home. Duncan came to the U.S. because he planned to marry Louise Troh, who lived in the apartment with other family members.

It was unclear whether other family members also slept on those beds, or what the potential risk of such exposure would be.

Syed said none of the four have symptoms. They are being monitored twice a day for fever by officials from Dallas County Health and Human Services.

“The family has been removed from the apartment complex,” Syed said. “That is not because they were a threat; it’s because the city and county was trying to remove the family from this area so residents here would not be fearful.”

City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, whose district includes the neighborhood where the apartments are located, said some residents were turned away from work Friday morning because of where they lived.

Officials handed out pamphlets with information about the cleanup and had to translate the information into seven languages. The apartment complex is a common landing spot for immigrants coming from other countries.

Owners of The Ivy Apartments paid a $24,000 fine last year for a long list of health and safety hazards, including weak walls and missing smoke detectors. A construction crew replaced joists supporting one of the apartment’s porches while reporters watched Friday.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said the family needed to be moved, in part, because of the living conditions. Rawlings and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins drove with the family to their new home, provided by a “faith friend” of both men.

“Where they were living is a terrible place,” Rawlings said at an evening news conference. “We are more decent than that.”

Gates said she was on the phone with family members before the hazardous materials team entered the home and throughout the day to allay their fears.

“They were nervous,” she said. “We assured them we were going to give them all the privacy they deserve and we are going to give them a safe environment.”

Family members left behind nearly all their belongings. Food, clothing and other necessities will be provided by the county while they are sequestered.

Jenkins said Rawlings asked a boy on the drive over if he needed anything. The boy replied that he wished he had a basketball.

“So we’re going to see if we can take care of that shortly,” Jenkins said.

Officials said the state is paying for the cost of the cleanup — $65,000.

Troh’s daughter Youngor Jallah and her family, who also live in the apartment complex, have also been ordered by county officials to remain behind closed doors until the danger has passed.

Jallah told The Washington Post Thursday she suspected Duncan had Ebola after Texas Health Presbyterian missed warning signs and sent him home last week.

She made Duncan return to the hospital despite his protests on Sunday, she said, and warned paramedics to protect themselves around him.

Jallah even tried to disinfect the apartment where Duncan stayed, she told The Post, long before a hazmat team arrived to finish the job.

After flying into Dallas last week, Duncan stayed with Troh, Jallah’s mother, and her family in a small apartment. The mother said he never mentioned sharing a taxi with an Ebola victim in Liberia a few weeks earlier — not even after he fell ill.

When Jallah saw Duncan on Sunday morning, he was shivering in bed with two shirts on. A nursing assistant who worked night shifts, she took his temperature and found he had a fever of 102 degrees.

“When I see his eye, it is all red, and I think maybe this time it is Ebola virus,” Jallah told the newspaper.

But Duncan didn’t want to go back to the hospital. He had been to Presbyterian a few days earlier and sent home with antibiotics, even though staff knew he’d come from an Ebola-ravaged country. Jallah called 911 anyway and wouldn’t let the paramedics into the apartment until they put on gloves and facemasks.

Emergency room staff at Presbyterian didn’t make the same mistake twice. They immediately moved Duncan to an isolation ward.

Jallah returned home and sprayed the apartment down with disinfectant.

After all her efforts, Jallah now has her own worries. She said her children stayed in the apartment with Duncan.

Staff writers Avi Selk and Tristan Hallman contributed to this report.

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